The Scarlet Letter film takes place at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in Massachusetts. By this time, Puritans and pilgrims had come to settle in the Northern Colonies, in search for a place in which they could profess their religion freely without fear of being prosecuted. Hester Prynne is a Puritan English woman that has arrived at this colony under her husband’s instructions of finding a house, but more precisely, to find a place to live a free life in communion with God.
However, she would find herself unfitting for the times and society she is to live in, so much so, that the Promised Land that Massachusetts seems to be at the beginning, would become her soul and body’s imprisonment. The film portrays very acutely the strong social and moral codes by which Puritan society lives. Church is the center of their lives and the only place in which the people can communicate with God. The patriarchal social order is also reinforced by Puritan codes in the sense that no woman can live on her own or without her husband.Order now
But Hester is a proto-feminist and a free spirit. The very first dinner after her arrival, she declares she wants to find a house and await her husband there. The dinner atmosphere turns out to be denser as she continues exposing her ideas of subsisting on her own until the arrival of her husband. From then on, she begins to be seen with condemnatory eyes, and as the film goes on, she is even accused of witchcraft. Puritans believed in predestination.
Alike the Israelites, they were convinced to have been chosen by God to fulfill a special role in human history: to establish a new, pure Christian commonwealth, a “city upon a hill”. This fervent convincement is observed when Reverend Dimmesdale gives his moving sermon at church, emphasizing their role as a model for other settlers. However, all this strong moral codes will come to be challenged by Hester and the Reverend’s love. Their love under this society is unthinkable, to the point of being hanged, but they believe it is not sinful under God’s eyes.
At the very news of the apparent death of Hester’s husband, she is eager to consummate their love once and for all, but according to Puritan codes, they should wait at least seven years for doing so. Here is the moment in which these codes turn out to be unbearable by their absurd strictness, and thus, flouted. Hester and the Reverend’s love blooms into an “illegal” baby and their nightmare becomes. She is discovered and accused of adultery, and as she does not confess publicly the father’s name, she is imprisoned.
Her pregnancy is carried out in confinement, as she does not repent of her “sin”. At this point, religion turns out to be her own jail, but for her there is a paramount difference between what God’s will is and what the heads of this colony interpret it to be. When released from imprisonment, she is denigrated even further by having to wear a red “A” from adultery on her chest. Social chastisement and rejection are nothing compared the sorrow she and the Reverend feel for having to live apart because that society does not approve of that love.
When about to be hanged after being accused of witchcraft, the Reverend confronts all the religious foundations of the Puritan community and questions the authority of judging God’s children, whose only sin was to love each other. He then desperately addresses all who have come to this land searching for freedom to profess their love for God, and they themselves have continued the prosecution they were escaping from. The “perfect model” they finally established was a one in which oppression was its soul and body. New England became the Promised Land for the same nightmare.